Is your last name spelled Teo, Cheung, Cheong or Chang? If so, there’s a good chance that the original Chinese surname of your ancestors is 张, pronounced Zhang in Mandarin.
Zhang (张), meaning ‘to stretch a bow’, is the 18th most common surname in China. Many communities worldwide in places like Malaysia, Peru and Macau also share the same surname.
The roots of the Zhang family stretch far and wide. Most Zhang descendants can trace their ancestry back to the bloodlines of Huang Di, or the Yellow Emperor.
Looking for your Zhang family history book?
What are the origins of Zhang?
Many believe that the surname Zhang originated from Zhang Hui (张挥), the grandson of Huang Di (皇帝 / the Yellow Emperor). A skilled soldier, Zhang Hui had the responsibility of weapon production, and specifically bows and arrows. In recognition of his contributions, he was bestowed the surname Zhang 张 which is comprised of the Chinese characters for “bow” and “long”. His descendants later settled in a place called Qingyang, which became modern-day Qinghe county in Hubei. A folk saying was later popularized to commemorate the clan’s origins — “天下张姓出清河” (all Zhang descendants come from Qinghe).
Other historical accounts trace the origins of the Zhang clan to Jie Zhang (解张), a descendant of the Yellow Emperor who was born in Linyi County, Shanxi Province. Zhang was a senior official of the Jin State during the Spring and Autumn Period, and his descendants took his surname as their own. In his time in government, Zhang witnessed Duke Wen of Jin’s unfair treatment of Jie Zitui, a Han aristocrat. Zhang then wrote a poem entitled The Dragon and Snake Song in response to the situation. The poem roused Duke Wen into action and he ordered the search for Jie Zitui. In order to find Jie, Duke Wen had his men burn a forest that Jie was rumored to be hiding in – the resulting forest fire killed Jie. Jie’s death anniversary is now observed during the Tomb-Sweeping Festival.
There is also evidence to suggest that the Zhang clan (or its various branches) may have originated elsewhere. One account traces the origins of the clan to Zhang Liao (张辽), a general of the Wei Dynasty of the Three Kingdoms. Zhang Liao was originally a Nie (聂) clan descendant. However, his family changed their surname to Zhang in order to avoid political conflicts. Another story details how Long Youna (龙佑那), the chief of the Southern Barbarians residing in Yunnan, was given the surname Zhang by Zhuge Liang, whose military genius was made famous in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Later, Long’s descendants took Zhang as their surname.
Did you know?
Perhaps the surname Zhang might bring to mind the legendary martial hero Zhang Fei, one of the major characters in the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义). Although many narrative elements in the classic title were fictionalized, Zhang Fei was very much inspired by a real-life historical figure of the same name. As a military general serving under the warlord Liu Bei (刘备), Zhang Fei showed great valor and fortitude during impressive campaigns, such as the Battle of the Red Cliffs. However, his life was also filled with strife and conflict; he met his end by assassination at the hands of his envious subordinates.
|Meaning||To stretch a bow|
|Symbols||弓 (bow), 长 (long, stretch)|
|Legendary Ancestor||Huang Di 黄帝, the Yellow Emperor|
|Founding Ancestor||Zhang Hui 张挥, the grandson of Huang Di|
|Cantonese||Cheong, Cheung, Chiang, Chong, Teo|
|Hainanese||Deo, Chan, Chang, Cheng, Cheong, Chiang, Chong, Choong, Chun, Chung, Teo, Teoh, Zhang|
|Hakka||Zhong, Chang, Chen, Cheng, Cheong, Cheung, Chiang, Chong, Soon, Teo, Teoh, Tiong, Tjong|
|Hokkien||Tiu, Tio, Thio, Teow, Teoh, Teo, Diong, Chong, Cheung, Chang, Cheong, Tiong, Tiunn, Tionn|
|Teochew||Tiu, Tie, Tea, Tir, Tei, Teio, Ten, Teo, Teoh, Teon, Tew, Teow, Thio, Tio|
|Shanghainese||Chang, Chan, Cheong, Chiang, Ching, Chong|
|Taiwan||Chang, Tionn, Tiong, Tiunn|
|United States||Zhang, Chang, Cheong, Cheung, Chhang, Chiang, Chiong, Chuong, Chung, Diang, Diong, Djang, Geong, Jang, Jeong, Jong, Jung, Kyaung, Tea, Tei, Teo, Teoh, Teong, Theo, Thio, Thiong, Tio, Tiong, Tjhong, Tjiong, Tjong, Tsang, Tschang, Tchang, Chong, Tchong, Jeung|
|Indonesia||Sulistio, Tjong, Canggih, Sutiono, Tjon, Tio, Tnio, Chandra, Natio, Susetyo, Susantio, Setiono, Santyoso, Setyo, Thio, Teo, Theo, Setio, Tjiong, Soewondo, Setiadi, Prasetyo, Prasetya, Setiawan, Susantyo, Kartio|
|Hawaii||Chong der, Ford, Glenchur, Gung, Hing, Lum, Wing, Jong, Jeong|
|Jamaica||Jong, Cheong, Chong|
|Malaysia||Teoh, Cheong, Tiong, Teo, Chong, Chang|
|Suriname||Jong, Tjong, Tjon, Tjoh, Mah A Jong|
|Peru||Saco, Chion, Chang|
|Singapore||Teoh, Cheong, Teo|
|Suriname||Lim, Liem, Lam|
|Cambodia||Tchang, Tea, Tir|
Who are famous Zhang in modern history?
From film directors, rock stars, and Olympians, to tycoons and politicians: there’s nothing that Zhangs can’t do. Some of the most prominent Zhangs in modern history include:
- Zhang Yimou: Chinese film director, producer, writer, actor and former cinematographer. His creative vision and artistic prowess earned him numerous industry awards for films such as Red Sorghum, Hero and The Great Wall.
- Chang Chen-yue (A-Yue): Aboriginal Taiwanese rock musician, songwriter, singer and frontman of his band, Free Night.
- Cheung Ka-long: Hong Kong professional foil fencer. Cheung is the first athlete representing Hong Kong to win an Olympic gold medal in fencing, and also the second to become an Olympic champion.
- Chang Yun Chung: Singaporean billionaire and shipping tycoon who founded Pacific International Lines (PIL). He was the world’s oldest billionaire after the death of David Rockefeller in 2017.
- Zhang Gaoli: A retired PRC politician, Zhang served as the senior Vice Premier of the State Council between 2013 and 2018 and as a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee.
How do Zhang families stay connected today?
Zhangs around the world celebrate their ancestry through global and regional Zhang clan associations, which organize gatherings, community activities and dinner events on a regular basis. Clan associations had their origins in China but were later reproduced overseas by migrant populations. These Zhang clan associations thus play an important role in promoting cohesion and togetherness among overseas Chinese communities.
Are you a Zhang? Who were your ancestors?
You can find the stories of your ancestors in a Zhang zupu, or family history book. Known as the Holy Grail of Chinese genealogy, a zupu records the names of your ancestors, their values, migration journeys, and more.
What do you know about your family history? Tell us in the comments!
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